When I first got baptised I completely gave up secular music for all the wrong reasons. I gave it up because I had fallen into the “all things secular = bad” rhetoric that’s prevalent amongst new converts & the most extreme conservatives. That was almost five years ago. But I have always loved music and since then, I have grown into myself a lot more, with my love for music intensifying. I brought back the secular music after I broke up with my first SDA boyfriend, and it was likely part of the process of regaining my identity but that’s neither here nor there. I brought it back and wondered why I’d ever let it go in the first place. I started listening to a lot of jazz, some folk stuff and eventually hip hop found its way back to me.
The love-hate relationship I have with hip hop is the same I have with Tyler Perry productions and reality tv. They are all entertaining but they play a part in being abusive, especially toward black women and that makes me uncomfortable. Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand that it’s not as cut and dry as “gangster rap is bad, they should rap about other things” because you have to consider the environment these people are a part of. They’re part of a system that has denied them accessible education and resources, financial & economic support, comfortable living situations, etc, etc & most of what they’re rapping is real life. Bobby Schmurda is in jail because he dry snitched on himself in the hit summer jam “Hot Nigga”, he really did catch a body about a week ago. With that in mind, this post isn’t about demonising gangster rap or trap music.
Listening to rap is becoming increasingly difficult because the line between the “concious” rap and the regular stuff is getting blurred. Take one of my favs, J.Cole, I’ve rocked with him since ‘The Come Up’ and he’s had his ups and downs musically but he has maintained consistency in his subject matter. He’s new age concious, he criticises the government and systematic oppression while encouraging young black boys that they don’t have to be basketballers and rappers, etc. But he has always had a problem with the word “bitch”. On his latest album, ‘2014 Forest Hill Drive’, his first platinum album and probably best body of work, he navigates the nuances of being famous but also trying to remain connected with his past, while at the same time commenting on that past and why escaping it is also actually a blessing. Good stuff.
On this same album, though, is a song, ‘No Role Modelz’, and listening to that song vexes me. What vexes me more is the fact that it’s so fricking catchy & I don’t always skip it. It’s actually a terrible song, the worst on his album for sure but what’s interesting is that he’s critiques himself:
She think I’m spoiled and I’m rich cause I can have any bitch
I got defensive and said “Nah, I was the same without it”
But then I thought back, back to a better me
Before I was a B-list celebrity
Before I started callin’ bitches “bitches” so heavily
& here’s the thing, Cole has previously acknowledged that he’s part of the majority of rappers who perpetuate misogyny & as far as I know he hasn’t tried to defend it. But there’s this thing that I’m seeing more and more of recently where people admit to having a flaw but doing nothing to change it, as if the admittance is enough. It’s not.
Since reintroducing secular music into my life, I have become very selective with the music I digest, but having to scan album by album what songs I want to listen to and which I don’t is tiring, and I’m too lazy for all of that.
Last week, ‘Straight Outta Compton’ was released in cinemas, a biopic about the infamous NWA and their civil rights work. An amazing story of young, black men from an oppressed background standing up and fighting not only for themselves, but for the people. Great stuff. What was left out of the movie was how most of them beat their partners and a lot of their songs contain lyrics that condone abuse of women. This isn’t hip hop’s fault. If they weren’t rappers, they’d probably still beat on their partners and maintain the thoughts behind those abusive lyrics. Even if they were rich, and raised in comfortable environments with a good education system. Even if they were white.
Hate seeps into everything, and hip hop is no exception. I love hip hop, and I will continue to critique it as long as I love it because it needs to do better, but for now, I have to be disciplined with what I consume.